I have been thinking for some time about what to write in my next blog post as I wanted to write something helpful. I have in the last couple of years, and personally myself experienced and been witness to a 'condition' in new puppy owners which seems to be becoming more prevalent, it is often referred to as 'Post Puppy Depression'. It is very similar in many ways to post natal depression and can really leave owners ready to rehome their new family members, they constantly question their decision to take on a puppy and whether they are doing right by the dog.
I feel there are many factors that accumulate to create a feeling of not doing enough, not doing the right thing, making bad choices etc. The general notion amongst the population is that puppies are these adorable bundles of fluff that likes to play and then wear themselves out and sleeping. The things most often considered the worst things with pups is the toilet training and chewing. If you're struggling with your puppy most people just say its a phase and it will pass, but what if you are having a particularly difficult time taking on the responsibility? What if you are the one solely responsible for training that pup, socialising it, caring for it.. it's a lot of pressure especially in the current climate with the dangerous dogs act. We are becoming more conscious of ensuring our puppies turn out to be well-adjusted and safe members of society. It is a huge job to take on, despite what a lot of people say and I feel this is often not addressed.
I personally went through a period of PPD about 10 years ago with my JRT. He wasn't interested in being trained, he was more interested in running off or chasing things. He liked to escape out of the back garden and my neighbours would bring him back after playing with him at or local playground. He would not toilet outside and I was constantly clearing up after him. He was noisy, disobedient, he embarrassed me at puppy classes by completely flunking. I seriously considered rehoming him as though I considered myself an experienced dog owner, he was my first puppy and I felt I was failing him. I remember crying in despair as I asked at the vets if they might be able to find someone willing to take him on. I despaired and really thought he'd be better off somewhere else. I am glad I persevered though as at around 14 months old he finally settled down and he is now one of the most obedient and sociable dogs I know.
It is hard though. When you see people out with their incredibly well-trained dogs and you look at yours at the end of the lead, tongue lolling out gasping because he won't walk nicely, or she barks at every dog and lunging, or refuses to listen to a command or jumps up at everyone and everything, and you think... why is their dog so well trained? what have I done wrong? You get other people telling you stories of their lovely bundles of fun who are behaving quite naturally nicely. The thing is.. it's actually quite normal to feel this way. There are many people who suffer PPD, who feel at their wits end, perhaps their puppy isn't as bad as yours, but still, it can be just as taxing. People are all different as are dogs, they all have personalities, natural traits, likes, dislikes, sometimes even odd quirks that make you cringe or scratch your head in confusion. We are all capable of making mistakes, even really experienced dog owners can do something unintentionally which they later need to correct. There is no magic trick to rearing a well behaved puppy. We have to adapt to them, find what motivates them, and keep working at it. Because we care so much that we are doing things right, this is why raising a puppy can be so emotionally draining. In worrying as much as we do, we don't realise what we ARE doing right, and it's up to us fellow dog owners, trainers etc to ensure that we let new puppy owners know they are not alone, it does pass and that we are there to help if they need it. We are supposed to be supporting a partnership to achieve their goals.
I've asked around and I am including an anonymous quote of someone who has dealt with PPD. I hope people can find it comforting that they are not alone
" I wanted to rescue a dog, I looked in rescue for a 2-3yr old dog and I fell in love with this beautiful Samoyed. I arranged to go and meet her, but there was bad news. She was pregnant. I couldn't have her. I was gutted, but I watched her progress online and when the puppies were born, I fell in love all over again with a chunky little bi eyed boy... But a puppy is such hard work and I have a dog at home that can be unpredictable with other dogs... yet still somehow this little bundle came home... I did all the right things, big puppy pen, careful introduction, right food, socialisation, puppy classes.. even so there would be times when this gorgeous furball was cuddled asleep on my lap that I would panic, or weep unconsolably... "what have I done? Am I the right home? Am I just selfish? what about the adult dogs I left behind, puppies always find families, but what about his Mom? What if he became dog aggressive, what if he grew too big/ he was such an enormous puppy. What if his unknown father was a complete terror?... if he got a sniffle I was convinced it was parvo (It wasn't it was a sniffle), if he threw up because he ate too fast, I would panic, he was choking... I had the vet on speed dial... He was so little, so fragile and depended on me for everything it was such crushing responsibility!... He's 18 months old now and a big chunky cuddly robust monster. Those sleepless panicky nights are behind me... I can't honestly say why he affected me so much. I have had other dogs, I have raised other puppies and none gave me the post puppy depressions like Dexter. Maybe it was timing, I had a lot of other stresses in my life at the time and I think I projected many of them to him. Whatever it was, it was horrible and I'm glad it has passed. He's a lovely dog, whatever I was doing, I did it just fine."
To some the reason may seem obvious, but there are two different meanings to the word co-operation :
I am specifically using the first definition when it comes to name selection. I have talked so many times before about working together, building a relationship and bond with your dog, both heading towards the same goal. Ultimately that co-operation will lead to the 2nd definition within your dog and this is where assistance dogs get well recognised and we all know that when you have an assistance dog it is often referred to as a 'partnership'. This is ultimately what we all should be aiming for with our dogs, a long lasting rewarding relationship built on co-operation and trust and respect.
This is why I use only non-confrontational training techniques and techniques which rely on the dogs innate nature to achieve the results we are after. A dog will not 'perform' a task if he is not happy or she feels scared, you will not have a well-rounded dog if you do not trust them and respect them as with people, you need to earn their trust and respect by understanding their needs and personalities and working with them. I hope this gives some better explanation as to why I have chosen this particular name for my business. I feel that the 'co-operation' part of our relationship with our dogs often gets left out, because it's not just the dogs that should be doing the work, but us as their trainers should be doing all we can to be the best we can be for our canine friends.
Crufts was an enjoyable day out on the Saturday this year. I didn't do much shopping, I bought Serendipity a nice floaty firehose toy from Extra Dog also known as 'Katie's Bumpers'. Needless to say it was a hit though we do have to be careful she doesn't over-exert herself on walks so we need to stick to fetching in the water from now on. I got to take some nice photos of dogs in the show ring, at least the best I could get with the lighting and my camera. I also got to attend a couple of interesting lectures, one more about growing my business, and the other about temperament testing in the rescue dog discussing various ways to do so, the difference between temperament and behaviour and of course how to measure a dog's temperament.
Sadly I didn't attend the lecture on 'wolves to dogs' but my friends did and said it was very interesting but not much new to my friend and I who have been keeping update with all the current information regarding scientific perception of how the dog evolved. The gist of it is.. there was an ancestor before wolves and dogs that split off into the dog and wolves we know today. Dogs did not evolve from wolves, they evolved from a canine which was similar to what we see as the village dogs in many far off countries. So though dogs and wolves are from the same family tree, dogs are not wolves in domestic dog clothing.
This of course has big implications for a lot of current perceptions in the dog training and behaviour field when it comes to dealing with certain problems and the idea of 'pack' in dogs is almost completely irrelevant. In fact the idea of pack is most likely to be more obvious in the pack working dogs such as huskies and canadian eskimo dogs. These are bred to work as a team so its not surprising they will have some pack instincts. This could also mean that those dogs such as the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog which were created from the pack forming european grey wolves are more likely to still have that pack instinct. It will be expressed in different ways though.
However most domestic dogs do not have this pack mentality and tend to form more of a loose social collective. This is very fluid in the ways the dogs interact with each other and even us. Of course this is going to affect our relationships with dogs in terms of how we treat them and engage with them as we should no longer see them as trying to be 'dominant'.
Behaviour in dogs is such a fascinating subject though and was the topic of my investigative report in my final foundation degree year. It was basically a mini dissertation and I have decided I would like to expand on it at a later date, possibly if I succeed in gaining entry to the third year BSc in Canine Behaviour and Training at Bishops Burton. I know quite a few people who 'work' their dogs in sports, whether it be breed related or not. I wanted to explore if doing a sport or job which relates to the original function of the breed can decrease or increase the expression of behaviour problems. The results I found were quite interesting, though the small numbers did skew the statistics a little it is something to build upon and surprised me. I had expected different results so I was fascinated and indeed intrigued. I am including the full report here, including spelling mistakes and imperfections as it was submitted to my University. I received a 2:2 for it mostly because I forgot to title a few tables and graphs, didn't speak 'scientifically' enough in places amongst other mistakes, but the general content was very well received. I hope if anyone decides to read it, they too can see the unexpected results and perhaps relate this back to their own dogs.
here's the link for the toy I got for Serendipity: http://www.xtradog.com/shop/shop-by-brand/katies-bumpers.html
I have now officially held three training classes. It has taken a while for things to really get going, some people have missed classes, had other problems etc, but today we really got to work with the classes. It was much more structured than previous weeks,whilst being looser than your average training class. We have been doing a mix of formal and informal work.
I have taken to a structure of the first 5-10 minutes being a time to get the dogs focused on their handlers doing some loose lead walking, jogging and play. We then spend the next 30 minutes doing structured work where everyone gets to work at the same time. I feel it's important that handlers and their dogs do not stand around doing nothing during classes as it can become boring for both handler and dog and then focus is lost and that's when dogs begin to play up and handlers get frustrated.
We do have some dogs with issues in the class and I have ensured that class layout benefits the dogs to reduce stress. I have been observing each dog and handler carefully to make sure I can get the best out of them. During formal training so far we have been working on heel work, sit, down and introduced recall. Throughout I encourage the handlers to really engage with their dog to keep the focus and make the dog more willing to work WITH them. I've been involved in classes before and have often seen what seems to me almost a battle of wills between handlers and dogs. I do not agree with forcing a dog to do something, and so if a particular task is not working for one handler and dog I suggest breaking it up with a different task and go back to the difficult one later once both handler and dog have relaxed a little more.
I have seen improvements in the dogs during class already which has been fantastic. I thoroughly encourage handlers to bond with their dogs in a variety of ways and it's really what works for the pair. There is never a 'one size fits all' with a dog and handler relationship and its finding out what really makes each pairing tick which will help guide the training.
At the end of each class we spend 5-10 minutes again just doing some focus exercises but try and encourage the dogs to de-stress and relax a little to ensure that training remains a positive experience for them. It's lovely getting to meet handlers and their dogs and really get to know them. I look forward to many more weeks to come.
I decided to have a look through some images I have taken in the last coupleof years and came across some I thought could use a little re-editing, and even some I hadn't even touched before. After doing some black and white editing lately I decided to have a play around with some older photos, a mixture of some of the dogs I have had the pleasure of meeting and playing with, some on a photo shoot, others as regular visitors to our household. One thing I love about going back is remembering the days of each image captured, what the weather was like, the mood in the air. It all adds up to making a moment a permanent memory to remember.
This saturday the 11th January will be the official start date of training classes in Coggeshall village. I am beginning to get excited. I have been working out training schedules, figuring out some fun activities to end the classes on, and I've been deciding where to place each dog in the session during the formal parts to ensure we have the ideal personalities working next to each other. We do not want any clashes as we know that negative experiences can make the difference between something being a small training issue, and something becoming a major behavioural problem. I am aiming for the classes to be as fun and engaging for both the owners and their dogs to provide an optimal learning environment.
I know I myself have got bored during some formal training classes so I will be trying something new with mine. I am hoping everyone enjoys their first training experience with me and will continue to do so. I consider myself very flexible when it comes to giving classes. I will be asking for input each week from attendees asking what they thought worked well, what didn't and things they would like to try. It's not just about creating a batch of dogs that know commands and perform upon asking, it's about finding things which enhance the bond between owner and dog so they have a happy working relationship together. After all happy dogs and owners mean less behavioural issues in general.
Let the fun begin!
Dog Trainer, animal lover, artist and photographer